Jose Morales stepped into the Oriole playpen this morning 20 minutes ahead of his youngers. He is of an age, 36, when it is important to give the muscles notice that hard work is coming.

"When you fall," he said, the old man seeing the future, "these new kids, they won't pick you up."

So he comes to work early, always carrying a bat. This morning he popped out of the dugout and into the dazzling sun with two bats in hand.

"Hitting," said the old man, "is thinking."

Morales turned his hands lovingly around the ash.

"And I am always thinking of hitting. What the situation is, in what area of the plate the pitch will be, what I want to do -- a line drive, a long fly ball, a ground ball to the right side."

Only one active player, Altanta's Mike Lum, has more career pinch hits Morales, 95 to 94. Morales, then with Minnesota, led the American League designated hitters with a .323 average in '78 and was second best at .304 last year. His career batting average is .294.

"It's good," Earl Weaver said, practically giggling, "to have guys like that."

Here it is, March 23 in glorious Miami, with the Earl of Dispute getting ready to serve the first spring-training suspension ever. And already the little genius is giggling at what he has done to the rest of the world by hiring both Jose Morales and Jim Dwyer, whose 1980 statistics (and career numbers, for that matter) add up to Dave Winfield's.

Morales is a right-handed hitter, Dwyer a lefty who hit .285 for the Red Sox last season. They replace Lee May, 38, who never learned to his coming off the bench, and Pat Kelly, 36, who was all right at bat but such a stone glove that one year two fly balls bounced three feet of his hand and over the fence.

Dwyer, 31, is a real player who worked at first base and all the outfield spots for the Red Sox. If Morales as a catcher is terrible -- his scattershot arm has been allowed behind the plate only 98 times in his 582 big league games -- his presence gives Weaver the chance to hit for his starting catcher early and still have a body available for emergency duty.

"We are," Weaver said, "vers-a-tile."

Save for gnawing at umpire's knees, Weaver gains his greatest joy by manipulating a 25-man roster. With Dwyer, he can give center fielder Al Bumbry a rest now and then. Dwyer also worked at first base this morniong in the pickoff and double-play drills.

"There's something else I can do, too," Weaver aid. This was about the time he let everyone know that only two managers in 50-some years have had four 20-game winners on a team: Al Lopez with Cleveland in '54, and Earl Weaver in '71. This was about the time Weaver let us know that only three managers ever won 100 games five times: Connie Mack with the A's, Joe Mc Carthy with the Yankees and, yes indeed, Earl.

"What else," someone said, rising to the bait, "can you do with Dwyer?"

"I haven't checked the stats," Weaver said. He doesn't get up in the morning without checking his stats on sunrises. "But let's say that Terry Crowley, normally our DH, hits good against the star of the Texas bullpen, Jim Kern. So we go into Texas and they have Danny Darwin starting. I might leave Crowley out of the starting lineup and start Dwyer -- so I'd have Crowley ready to pinch hit against Kern."

Einstein when he figured out relativity could have been no more pleased than Weaver at this moment.

"One thing we did give up to get Morales and Dwyer is 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts," Weaver said. Kelly did that. "But maybe Dwyer can do the same thing." The last time Dwyer was a regular, in 1977 with Wichita in Triple-A ball, he stole 28 bases in 41 tries.

The Red Sox wanted to keep Dwyer, but the baseball gypsy -- this is his seventh team in nine seasons -- had had enough of Boston.

"Boston was a hard team to get to know personally," Dwyer said. "They all dept to themselves. Here it's more like a family. The Orioles have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome. Weaver uses the whole 25-man team, too, while Don Zimmer was a nine-man manager. At Boston, it was tough to come off the bench and hit because you might have been sitting on the bench for a month when Zimm would holler, 'Hey, go up and get a hit.'"

Eleven teams drafted Dwyer in the free-agent shopping last winter. He chose the Orioles because he wanted to play for a contender in the American League, where the DH rule gives him more at bats.

"I see myself as a utility player for this team," said Dwyer, a 5-foot-10, 175-pounder who in 93 games last year set career highs in average, hits (74), home runs (nine) and runs batted in (38). "I'll play mostly against right-handers."

Someone pointed out to Dwyer that Weaver, in his dugout soliloquy, said the new left-hander hit .417 against left-handed pitching last season.

"I did?" Dwyer tried to smile. "I hope Earl Doesn't use me against that many left-handers. The average will go down in a hurry.The only times I played against left-handers was when Yaz didn't. If the pitcher threw the big curve -- like Tommy John and Rudy May and Scott McGregor -- then I'd play. I'm a contact hitter, and they used me against those big yakers."

And how, by the way, did he do against the Oriole ace, McGregor?

"Two for four, a home run," he said, smiling.

In the locker room, Morales said he wanted to play three or four years with the Orioles.

"I want to finish out my career the way most kids dream," he said. "With the World Series. That's why I came to the Orioles. The World Series in '81, '82, '83 . . ."

He raised a bat to his shoulder. " . . . and '84, too."